Combating hearing loss

Health and Behavior
Brenda Ryals ASHA award

Dr. Brenda Ryals, professor of communication sciences and disorders, has been awarded the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s highest honor for her contributions to the field of audiology.

Ryals developed a passion for research as a practicing audiologist in the 1970s. When a mother questioned whether her infant son was suffering from hearing loss, Ryals ran every available test, but the science at the time was lacking. Eventually she began working with a neonatologist to discover new and better ways to determine whether babies could hear. “I wanted to do more research,” Ryals said. “This was not something I saw coming. I didn’t plan this goal. But intellectual curiosity and a desire to do the best by my patients just logically led me there.”

In 1988, she was part of a team at the University of Virginia that uncovered birds’ remarkable ability to regenerate hair cells in the inner ear. The groundbreaking discovery has important implications for restoring hearing loss in humans.

The following year, Ryals joined the faculty at JMU. She lists among the most rewarding aspects of her career her role as editor in chief of the journal Ear and Hearing and her relationships with students and colleagues. “Why have I stayed in the field of communication sciences and disorders for more than 40 years now? The short answer to that question is the people. My students and colleagues have challenged me every day and continue to make me a better person.”

Going forward, Ryals plans to study birds’ vocalizations as a model for understanding how new hair cells affect how their world sounds. “What happens to perception when you get a new hair cell? That’s what I’m trying to find out,” she said.


Brett Seekford ('17)

Back to Top

Published: Friday, January 2, 2015

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Related Articles